As I sit on the balcony of my hotel watching the waves crash against the beach, I realize how lucky I am to have had the opportunity to “get away” from the monotony of the last 9 months. I am about an hour away from calling an Uber and heading to the airport on my way back to the United States. In the past, I would be writing about all the exciting things I did throughout the week while simultaneously uploading the pictures and videos to my travel blog. However, this time was different. While I did a few things (which I will discuss further below), most of this trip consisted of doing absolutely nothing. I am not sure if it was because I wanted to be cautious with COVID, didn’t want to spend more money than I had to, or was just lazy, I spent most of the week either on my balcony or in my bed. It is not necessarily a bad thing but just the reality. As a result, this post will be a summary of the past week in Puerto Vallarta.
My first day in Puerto Vallarta I went on a city tour which I book before arriving in Mexico. I got it off of the website Viator for $29 USD. The tour started off a little shaky as I was still lying in my bed when the company called to pick me up. While the website said that the tour started at 10AM, I was one of the first people to be picked up and the driver, Carlos, arrived at 9AM. I got an “unofficial” tour of Puerto Vallarta as the van drove around and picked up several more guests. After dropping half the group off at the company headquarters (called Discovery Tours) for a private tour, we were on our way. The tour itself was a hybrid of English and Spanish and the tour guide was named Jorge. He was an older gentlemen who owned a restaurant and bird watching sanctuary in the little village that we would visit that afternoon. Our first stop was a chocolate “factory” located inside of Puerto Vallarta marina. I put factory in quotes, because it’s really a small store. There was a small 10 minute presentation about how the chocolate was made but it was mostly a sales pitch for tourists. As we were on the way to our next stop, el Centro (or downtown), Jorge explained the history of how Puerto Vallarta (formerly Las Penas) was established. We stopped and walked around the Malecon (boardwalk) for about 30 minutes with half of the time spent in a jewelry store (which I thought was pretty pointless). We then went to a leathermaking store to endure yet another sales pitch. However, unlike the chocolate store, there really was no educational value. Before we left town, 6 people of our group dropped off and so it was only me and a couple from California. The drive down the coastal highway was great as Jorge explained the history behind the various hotels. We arrived to Jorge’s village and were taken to a coffee shop where we were given a rushed 5 minute presentation on how regional coffee was made before enduring yet another sales pitch. The final stop was to a tequila factory inside the village. Here we were offered the opportunity to buy lunch. I came in thinking it would be expensive by local standard, something like $10 USD per plate, but had thoroughly underestimated the gullibility of some of these tourists. We were given a presentation of various seafood plates with the cheapest plate being $30 USD. I just walked away which might have been a little rude. We were given a presentation on tequila which I actually thought was pretty decent. Although I don’t normally drink alcohol, it was cool to try the various products sold by the store. While I had no interest in actually buying the products, I did think the presenter did good enough to warrant a tip. After the tequila factory, Carlos took us back to town and dropped me off near my hotel around 2PM. Overall, I thought Jorge and Carlos did a great job but the tour itself was a giant sales pitch and I expected more considering the price. If I had to go back, I might have just done the free walking tour and stayed in Puerto Vallarta proper.
On Tuesday, I decided to hike one of the local attractions, Mirador de La Cruz. My original plan was to hike up early in the morning and catch the sunrise. Considering the route, I ended up taking, I am glad I slept in. Prior to going, I did some half-ass research on Google and along with remembering some instructions given by Uber driver upon arriving in Puerto Vallarta, I decided that I knew the route. I left my hotel around 11AM and started walking towards the base. I got to the point where I had the choice to either walk up some steps or go up a ramp. Thinking that the steps led to the actual trail, I started walking up the steps. It was not long until the steps stopped being steps and I ended up in an old Mexican man’s back yard. I had to ask him where the entrance to the lookout was and he told me to continue going up. I kept going and had come to realize that while the trail was not well defined, there was enough openings to be able to figure it out. However, had it been pitch black like my original plan, I would have been in a world of hurt and would have possible ended up in a ditch. I’m in average shape now, so it took me about 25 minutes to navigate the trail and I eventually arrived at the top in which I had to hop the guardrails to get on to the structure. The views were pretty nice as I could see up and down the coast of Puerto Vallarta. I hung out on top for about 20 minutes before making my way back down the official route. Turns out, while much safer, the official route probably would have been much more strenuous considering the amount of steps. Overall, I would definitely recommend checking out Mirador de La Cruz if passing through Puerto Vallarta.
After hiking Mirador de La Cruz, I pretty much took it easy for the rest of the week. I did take the bus to Playa de Los Muertos for the sunset only to realize how insanely expensive it was to rent a beach chair. Even eating out, I was satisfied with the pick of street food vendors right outside of my hotel and did not really feel the need to eat in the upscale restaurants in Puerto Vallarta’s Romantic Zone more than once. Yesterday, I decided to get a haircut for $150 MX Pesos (about $9 USD) and I bought a shot glass as a souvenir for $40 MX Pesos ($2.25 USD). Overall, I only spent about a $100 USD in cash for the whole week I was here (in addition to putting $50 USD on my credit card). All-in-all, it was a nice trip. As I prepare to go to the airport, I hope the next time I travel, the world will be in a much better place.
My flight from Puerto Vallarta was pretty comfortable. I ended up getting the entire exit row to myself (and the extra leg room that came with it). Additionally, I was able to watch some the NFL playoffs through Delta’s satellite capability (although it only works while the plane is in US airspace). The experience has me seriously evaluating whether or not I should start considering quality over cost when I book future flights. We landed in Mexico at about 2PM local time. Because I was able to fill out my immigration forms during the flight, I was able to quickly hurry to immigration. While I expected Mexico to be lax in their screening, I was surprised with how easy it was to get in. I basically had to fill out a 10-question form stating that I did not have symptoms related to COVID-19 and there was a a infrared body heat detector which took my temperature as I got in the immigration line that no one was really monitoring. Once I passed that, the customs agent basically stamped my passport and immigration card and I was on my way.
As soon as I got out of the bagging claim area, I was met quite aggressively with several tour operators and taxi drivers. They literally were screaming at me to stop. Had I not been a seasoned traveler, I may have gotten sucked into an overpriced timeshare or cab ride. Once I got out into the main atrium, I needed to figure out how I would be getting to my hotel. The main problem was that I did not have Mexican pesos. I considered currency exchange at the airport but the rating was horrendously bad (15 $MX=$1 USD). Luckily, the Uber app worked and I was able to book a ride through my phone (and credit card). The prices for the “official” airport taxis were about 3x the Uber price. The only annoyance was I had to leave the airport and cross a highway to meet the driver because they aren’t allowed to actually go into the airport.
It took us about 20 minutes to get to my hotel, El Pescador, from the airport. The Uber driver was nice and was explaining to me the overall COVID situation in Mexico. He also offered to take me to someone who could exchange my currency. Although I would have probably gotten above the “official” rate, I did not want to do it while I had all my belongings. He dropped me off and I tried to give him a good tip. Unfortunately, I was going off the options given to me by Uber and I tipped him 7.5 $MX which came out to .40 cents. Only after I exchanged my currency at my hotel did I realize how little that actually was. Fortunately, I was able to go back and add another 60 $MX ($3 USD) to the bill. As I stated, I was able to get a more reasonable exchange rate at my hotel (17 $MX= $1 USD) and decided to exchange half of the cash that I had on hand.
While the hotel was not as cheap, I did get a great deal due to a combination of COVID and it being low-season. My room was right next to the private pool and had a beach view. As a bonus, I was offered 5 vouchers for a free breakfast at the hotel restaurant. Today, I do not really have any other plans but to allow my body to adjust to the jet lag. However, I already have begun to research several possible things for me to do over the next 6 days which I look forward to sharing.
When you last saw me, it was December 2019, and I was sitting in José Joaquín de Olmedo International Airport in Guayaquil putting the finishing touches on a 6 month trip that took me through Puerto Rico, Colombia, and Ecuador. At that point, I was so tired that I knew that it would be a while before I traveled again. However, little did I know, life as I knew it would completely change and I would not travel internationally at all in 2020.
Shortly after I got back into the United States, I started my new job. My plan was to build up my cash reserves and then go to Peru in the early to late fall. Unfortunately, two months into my new gig the world was hit with a global pandemic. Originating from China, COVID-19, a respiratory virus, has killed almost 2 million people and has affected millions of more. As a result, borders were closed, businesses were shuttered, and millions of people were thrown into poverty. I was fortunate in two aspects. First, I was able to start my job right before the economy shut down and employment in the United States rose to nearly 30%. While working from home was not pleasant, it was better than not working. Because I was not spending $10 a day eating lunch every day, I was actually able to save money and pay off my debts. This allowed me to be in a better financial position to travel. I was also able to renew my passport for another 10 years. Next, I caught COVID fairly early and while I had a nagging cough for a few months, I did not end up on a ventilator. After heavy consideration, I decided that I wanted to travel again in January 2021. The problem was that while many countries were “open”, many either still had long quarantine requirements or cumbersome visa processes. As result, I broke my #1 rule…..never use my vacation days to visit the same place twice. I am currently sitting in Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson waiting to border my flight to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I have already been to Mexico a few times but I have never been to Puerto Vallarta. Mexico also has virtually no COVID requirements for entry and is open to tourism. I decided to take a week off of work and just go hang out on the beach. I was able to get a decent deal on a nice hotel on the beach off of Booking.com (I will review the hotel in the accommodations section).
Getting to this point has already been an adventure. I booked the cheapest flight I could find. Unfortunately, it left this morning at 6AM from Baltimore Washington International (BWI) airport which is an hour from my house. Because I do not have a car, I had to use public transportation to get to the airport which meant I had to leave at 8 PM on last night so I could catch the last train before my flight. I arrived to BWI at about 930 PM thinking that I would be able to at least get to the gate. Nope. Turns out that TSA closes the “airside” access at 9 PM and does not allow people in until 4 AM. I also did not get a chance to eat dinner so being cold and hungry, I had to sleep on the metal bench right in front of the security gate. I thought about getting a hotel but the prices were a little too high for my liking ($80 for only 8 hours). I eventually got onto my flight which actually was not that bad. I had a comfortable seat, there was no one directly next to me (no middle seats are booked), and I did not have to pay for my drink and snack. The key difference was I flew Delta as opposed to Spirit Airlines. I have arrived in Atlanta and I am currently sitting at the gate waiting to board my 4-hour flight to Mexico at 1130 AM. Despite everything that happened in 2020, I am grateful to be sitting here in 2021 with the opportunity to travel again and explore a new place.
Once you’ve traveled to several different countries, especially those within the same region, they start to blend together. For example, when I traveled throughout Southeast Asia, it seemed every country had the same temples and statues. This is why every country I go, I’ve tried to find 5 unique places or things that make that country stand out from the rest. This list is solely based on my experience and may not cover certain well-known traditions or tourist sites.
Estadio Azteca- Nothing highlights the significance of soccer in Mexican society like the famed Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. Home to the Mexican National Soccer Team, this stadium has hosted everything from World Cup Finals to American National Football League Games. It was also home to the infamous “Hand of God” goal when Argentina’s Diego Maradona scored with his hand to beat England in the 1986 World Cup Quarterfinals. The stadium also sits at about 7200 feet above sea level, giving Mexico a true homefield advantage during its matches.
Lucha Libre- If you combine the chaos of WWE Wrestling with the exquisite story telling of a Broadway play, you get the art of Lucha wrestling. Both Arena Mexico and Arena Coliseo in Mexico City host various Lucha Libre matches throughout the week. During my trip, I went to Arena Mexico and sat got a front row seat for around $150 Mexican Peso ($7 USD). The arena was modern, and I was treated like a celebrity. While the commentary is in Spanish, you can still enjoy the experience if you don’t happen to speak the language. If you go, you will save a lot of money by buying tickets directly from the ticket booth and not through third-party booking sites.
Puebla de Zaragoza- Located about 100km southeast of Mexico City, Puebla de Zaragoza is viewed as one of the most important historical cities in all of Mexico. Puebla was the genesis of the popular holiday Cinco de Mayo as it celebrates the French defeat by overmatched Mexican forces during the Second Franco-Mexican War in 1862. Contemporary Puebla is still able to bear its historical roots whilst becoming a modern-day city. To get to Puebla, you can take one of the buses leaving the Terminal Del Norte bus station in Mexico City. The trip itself takes about 2 ½ hours on an air-conditioned bus and costs about $180 Mexican Peso ($9 USD). In Puebla, you can find many restaurants and shops in the central square. There are also many full-day and half-day city tours that are based outside of the park.
Tortas- As someone who lived off of Cuban sandwiches in college, tortas were indeed a pleasant surprise. These are small sandwiches that filled with meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato (or ketchup), and mayo. They are grilled to perfection and are sold by street vendors throughout the country. When bought on the street, they can run you between $20-40 Mexican Pesos ($1-2 USD). They are a great food to fill yourself up on the cheap.
Tenochtitlan- Once the capital of the ancient Aztec Empire, the pyramids of Tenochtitlan are visited by millions of people a year, whether local or tourist. Located about 50 km north of Mexico City, the Pyramid of the Sun is the most visited landmark of all the temples. The entrance fee is $57 Mexican Pesos ($3 USD) and gets you access to both the Pyramid and the surrounding temples. Be warned, this is an extremely popular attraction and you will be forced to wait about 2 hours in the blazing sun as there is a line to get to the top of the main Pyramid. Throughout the park there are local vendors selling various Azteca artifacts for decent prices.
While Cabo San Lucas wasn't my favorite place, it is hard to argue with the beauty of an early morning sunrise on the beach before it gets invaded by tourists.